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  • Facebook Mama
  • Sokunthary Svay (bio)

As most refugee and immigrant children will tell you, it is not an unusual thing to have a parent call you in a panic about something their particular generation has yet to master.

"Chup, my phone not work. I not know why. I on the Facebook and it gone!"

And so begins a Friday afternoon saga wherein my mother, Yim Long, takes a train from the West Farms housing project in the Bronx, where she has lived since 1992 (when I was twelve), to have me, and only me, diagnose her device issues. We live in Forest Hills, Queens, which is in the middle of the borough of Queens and halfway toward Long Island. On a good day the commute can take just over an hour. During rush hour, it's closer to two. But my mother originally asked for Fridays and Saturdays off so that she could go to a myriad of doctor appointments without having to use up personal days. Fortunately, she was already off and able to spend the time and money to have her only daughter diagnose this phone issue.

As it happens, having her available on Fridays helps my partner and me have a date night that would otherwise add up to thousands of dollars a year. My daughter, Soriya, would be whisked off to her grandmother's in the Bronx on the subway as quickly as possible in order to avoid rush hour. The 4 and 5 subway lines on the Upper East Side have always been notorious for their crowding. As my mother ages into her midsixties, I worry for her bones and hope for a seat. She is more concerned about my near-eleven-year-old getting a seat. This is the Khmer way, the motherly-grand-motherly way, to care for others in place of oneself.

Which is why the desperation of her phone not working, and therefore her sudden isolation from Facebook, is out of character. I'm almost certain [End Page 89] that if given the choice, my mother would prefer to never have anyone lift a finger for her. In any case, she shows up to my home with bao buns for Soriya, and chicken and rice from the halal cart for me (even though I specifically told her I wasn't hungry).

"Here. My friend he try to do say I need to add. I don't know …"

I wave off the explanation because it never really quite adds up to useful information. I would have to infer from the device itself. First, it's clear that the Facebook phone app is not there. It has somehow disappeared, so of course I go to the app store and try to download it. When I press the icon to download, the phone prompts me to enter the password for her Apple ID. There is where the meddlesome work begins. It's important to know that my mother has a low level of literacy (in the more traditional sense of reading and writing) as well as digital literacy. Still, she's pretty good for a woman who grew up in the rice fields with no electricity. Even so, all her social networking and device accounts have been set up by her husband, my father, Chy Svay. So in order for her to even use her iPhone and iPad (yes, she has an iPad, too), my father had to set up an Apple ID to log her in, as well as create accounts for Facebook. Apple updates are an especially confusing time for her since the phone stops functioning normally and instead is in limbo until the update is complete.

With a deep sigh, because I know there will be a lot of back-and-forth, I text my father to ask what her password is. He sends me one with my niece's name. "With a capital S," he clarifies. It doesn't work. So I try a different spelling, different capitalizations. It doesn't work. Meanwhile, my daughter has joined the saga and is watching from the counter, munching on the food her Yiey (Khmer for grandmother) has brought. My mother is watching...


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pp. 89-95
Launched on MUSE
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